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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

A battle joined

The fireworks will start early on Beacon Hill this summer -- and last through the final days of July.

The Massachusetts Senate has fired a shot across the bow of the House with a proposal to authorize three casinos in the Commonwealth -- including one Indian-operated one -- but doesn't call for slot machines at the state's race tracks.

The bill slated for debate next week resembles the plan put forward by Deval Patrick a few years ago, the one shot down by a then anti-gambling House led by Sal DiMasi.

The proposal is a clear slap at current Speaker Robert DeLeo who has called for only two casinos and slots at the tracks -- most notably Suffolk Downs and Wonderland in his district.

That would be more than enough political drama in the waning days of the session -- a budget still to be resolved amid concerns about possibly disappearing federal health care dollars. Reining in health care costs is a key priority of Senate President Therese Murray -- a subject that doesn't move DeLeo like slots.

But that showdown only scratches the surface of the conflict likely after a defiant shot fired at all levels of government by two Massachusetts health insurers -- Blue Cross Blue Shield and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care -- who are calling for double-digit rate increases on individuals and small businesses even after being turned down on those hikes by the Patrick Administration.

Potential federal health care funding cuts could blow a $700 million hole in an already tight budget due to be in place by the end of the month, While that's too huge a chunk of change to take from just one place, it's likely state health spending -- and by extension access to services -- would take a major hit.

That's not the way Murray is looking to rein in costs: she's seeking long-term savings from insurers and providers. And that's a subject which apparently leaves DeLeo cold.

Fasten your seat belts. We're going to be treated to some high-stakes gambling of a different kind. Smart money says the house always wins, but I wouldn't put all my chips in on that bet.

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